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May 22, 2008 10:35 PM

[Houston] Catalan - quick review

Catalan's Spanish inspired menu led me to start with a glass of sherry and a complementary plate of the traditional accompaniments - manchego cheese, olives, sardines, and oil cured almonds. I never knew that I liked sardines until I had these. My wife ordered the crab croquettes which were also tasty. She also wisely selected the garlic shrimp seared in butter and chiles. I've heard the praises sung for Catalan's pork belly from several people so I had to try it myself. I've had a a fattier cut of belly from a hog finished on the whey byproduct from cheese-making like they do in Italty before that was braised in a pot liquor with five spice powder and the result was totally creamy. Catalan's was of a meatier cut - very much like a great pork rib.

I shared a dinner plate of the lamb quartet. I ordered the T bone and the rib chop medium rare and both were perfect. The rib chop had a great crispy crust around the edges that forced me to pick it up and gnaw the last tasty morsels. I was not as impressed with the sweetbread. It was chewy and didn't have a lot of flavor, in contrast to the one I had at Brasserie Max and Julie which was delicate with an amazing umami succulence. I hope to compare the sweetbreads at Da Marco's which was touted as the best in town in the Houston Chronicle. I think that the chef increased the portion of the barley pilaf because they knew I was sharing with my wife. They don't know that my wife eats almost nothing so I was overwhelmed by the portion and the dark reduction coating the barley grains. It didn't help that I misunderstood one of the wines to be a pinot when in fact it was a white wine. So the wine was totally lost in this course. I had to order a substantial red to cut through the palate fatigue and get out of the rough. Next time I've been told to consult with Antonio, the sommelier. I would have liked to have tried some Spanish wines and not much was available by the glass. I had just listened to the Splendid Table podcast about the wines of Galicia and Biertzo and had hoped to try some. Sadly my wife is not much of a wine drinker and I can't drink a bottle on my own. They have a nice selection of dessert and fortified wines of various production methods, several of which I have not tried. I did try a glass of the Lillypilly botrytized wine and enjoyed its orange overtones.

We told our waiter it was our anniversary which resulted in the appearance of a pile of cotton candy in a giant martini glass with a sparkler on top. I don't eat cotton candy so it looked nice but didn't get eaten. We ordered the chef playground option (which we were told was the only dessert that got ordered that night). It was a chocolate soda (very good), chocolate panna cotta (one of my favorite desserts) and a lava cake with chocolate ice cream. I think that I would have liked a fruit sorbet of strawberry or raspberry to contrast
the other chocolate flavors rather than the upscale brownie with ice cream. Plus all the dairy in the dessert course left me feeling overfull. I think I would probably stick
to the small plates next time and I would have had the perfect portion. Overall, I think Catalan merited the praises I've received.

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  1. Those appetizers all sound good. My DH and I could make a meal just on those and the chef's playground! We had a fine meal at Ibiza a while back but haven't tried Catalan yet. Thanks for the report.

    1. great review! i'm so glad you enjoyed catalan. it's my favorite restaurant in houston right now. try the roasted bone marrow next time. and the fois gras bon bons -- something everyone has to try at least once if you like fois gras.

      catalan had a sweetbread and veal cheek entree on the menu last year. i got it and it was totally over the top. it came with 2 huge sweetbreads and was way too rich for a main. i agree the sweetbreads were lacking in flavor. maybe they just need to panfry them in more butter the way the french do.

      the best thing about catalan is that you can add a piece of seared fois gras to any dish for $9. someone there told me that a guest decided to invoke this option with every course of their meal, even adding it to their dessert! the guy said the dessert w/ fois gras was the best dish he had that night.

      1. We went to Catalan's for the first time last night. I really don't know what's taken me so long to get there. It was food decadence and oh so good.

        We ordered the roasted bone marrow, roasted lamb stuffed piquillo peppers, pork belly in cane sugar, empanadas, shrimp & grits, and the baby greens salad in fig vinaigrette.

        Everything we ordered was delicious. The only thing I might not order again would be the empanadas. They were good especially when dipped in the green chili cream that goes with them, but I can get empanadas elsewhere and Catalan's has too many other choices. I also don't know that I would order the pork belly and roasted bone marrow together again but it was our first visit and we wanted to try it all. They were both good and I know we'll order them again just not at the same time.

        We are all about the food so while we did order a bottle of wine, O. Fournier Alfa Crux, which we could have gotten by the glass, next time I'll look over the wine list much more thoroughly and try something else.

        4 Replies
        1. re: tlegray

          I took my friend for her birthday dinner on Wed. night, and we agree that it IS food decadence and so good! We can't wait to go back, because we didn't get to eat all the different dishes we wanted to try because we were just too full.

          We were the first ones in the dining area, due to the fact that she gets off work at 4, so we got there around 5. We started off with a bottle of Jordan Chardonnay, her choice, even though I wanted to try something else. Then we ordered the Spicy Garlic Shrimp, the Pork Belly with cane syrup, and going against advice, we opted for an order of seared foie gras rather than the foie gras bon bons. We asked for toast points as well. The foie gras came with the same jelly that is served with the bon bons, and it was so good, but we couldn't figure out what it was. We asked and he replied it was a black pepper strawberry jelly. Every single thing was delicious. We took a break and went out to the patio with the our wine. They made sure that we got a nice dry table.

          When we came back in we were almost out of wine, so she said she would concede and let me order the next bottle. I ordered the Luciene Albrecht Cremant de Alsace Brut Rose. When we had first arrived she balked even though 3 different people there told us it was an excellent choice. When she tasted it she was pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed it (thanks Jenny!) We didn't ask for it, but they brought out some bread and butter, which was good. We continued with the Serrano Ham and Manchego cheese, and a plate of the asparagus wrapped in proscuitto with buffalo mozzarella and a citrus dressing.

          Since I had told them it was her birthday, at the end they brought out the cotton candy with a sparkler mentioned above, but neither of us is big on that so we had a couple nibbles. We were full at that point, but decided to look at the dessert menu. It all looked good, but we asked for a recommendation, and were told that our server's favorite was this peach custard which was fresh tasting and just right for the two of us.

          I wish we could have eaten even more, but we almost rolled out of there, in a very happy state and spent the entire drive home oohing and ahhing over everything we ate.

          1. re: danhole

            dani, you're welcome! i'm so glad you enjoyed your first catalan experience!

            i have to admit that one of the reasons i end up at catalan once a month is b/c of that lucien albrecht rose bubbly. it's only a few dollars more than buying it at spec's and a steal at $22!

            my mouth is watering just thinking about the pork belly. and i agree with tlegray that ordering pork belly AND roasted bone marrow in 1 visit is a saturated fat overload, but i doesnt stop me. i've done it many many times. i'm so glad you like fois gras. i've had 2 fois gras terrines (served cold like a pate) lately, 1 at le mistral and 1 at au petit paris. i'll post reviews soon.

            1. re: neverfull

              Jenny, the lucien has gone up to a whopping $23, lol! I really wanted the bone marrow but she said she really didn't like it and nothing I said could convince her, so . . . I was amazed at the selections we ended up with, because she has a real phobia about eating fatty food, but most of what we had was pretty darn fatty! I took control, for the most part, and she was impressed. As I said before I cannot wait to go back.

              For those of you that have never been there, I must warn you that the menu changes a lot. So if you have scouted a menu and then decide to go 3 weeks later, look for a current menu. The peach custard we had was not on the menu from the website. Oh, and they have daily specials. There was one "small plate" special that really tempted us (a soft shelled crab, I think) but we forgot to order. No matter, it is worth numerous visits!

              1. re: danhole

                we must stop talking about the lucien albrecht cremant rose or else it might be $24 the next time i walk into catalan.

                btw, i had it at pappas bros steakhouse tonight. $8 a glass. yum-ness.

                i love rose bubblies. i also go to ibiza b/c they have the nicolas feuillate rose for $40 a bottle. even better than the cremant.